Cannonball

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Yorker visited Rebel General Early after the Civil War

George Reeser Prowell was a well-known 19th-century chronicler of historical events in York County, Pennsylvania. While not always accurate or reliable, Prowell work nevertheless is important for the sheer volume of material he generated. Much of it came from personal interviews with York Countians, who shared their own experiences as well as oral traditions and written documentation. Not only did Prowell consult local citizens, at times he traveled to meet with outsiders who had knowledge of events in York County.

The latter included an attorney in Lynchburg, Virginia, a man who had spent three nights in York County back in the early summer of 1863. Those three nights, however, were among the most controversial in the county’s history.

The interviewee?

Jubal Anderson Early, a former Confederate major general whose 6,600 troops had invaded York County during the Gettysburg Campaign.

Prowell traveled with another ex-Rebel, John W. Daniel, one of Early’s staff officers and most-trusted aides during the late war. Daniel, like Early, was a lawyer living in Lynchburg. Daniel was also a U. S. Senator for several terms. It was the second, and most compelling, meeting between Prowell and the crusty old general. They met at Early’s house on a hill overlooking Lynchburg and the Southern Railway.

Here are some highlights of George Prowell’s October 1892 interview with Jubal Early, adapted from the July 14, 1916, issue of the York Dispatch.

Prowell found the nearly 80-year-old Early to be in “splendid condition”  and “in the best of health” despite his advanced age. After some light banter about Prowell’s boyhood belief that Jubal Early’s name reminded him of the Biblical character Tubal Cain, Prowell asked the general to read the passages in his diary about his encampment nine miles northwest of York on June 27, 1863 (in Big Mount).

Early informed Prowell that “before retiring for the night, I rode four miles down to [Brig. Gen. John B.] Gordon’s headquarters [on the Altland Farm at Farmers], in order to give directions how to enter York on the following day. We had orders from the commander-in-chief [Robert E. Lee], and from General [R. S.] Ewell, in whose corps my division served, to enforce the strictest discipline among our soldiers. We were not permitted to pillage or destroy any private property. Gordon had already held a conference with a deputation of citizens who had returned to York, before my conference with him.

“I returned to my quarters at the residence of Mrs. Zinn, and slept soundly that night, believing that within 24 hours I would have crossed the Susquehanna with my command, sent Gordon on a raid toward Lancaster and Philadelphia, and with my three [other] brigades joined Ewell with Rodes’ and Barnes’ division in the vicinity of Harrisburg. These were my expectations when I arose from my bed on that beautiful Sunday morning.

“On June 28, 1863, just as the sun was rising in the East, the bugle was sounded and we took up the march toward York, passing a short distance south of Davidsburg over a wide road to Weiglestown, leaving Dover to my left. Some of my troops scoured the country and gathered in many horses needed for our cavalry and our officers, for our own horses were tired and many of them nearly worn out.

“At Weiglestown I dispatched Colonel [William H.] French with a portion of his troops, about 200 men of the Seventeenth Virginia cavalry, to the mouth of Conewago creek. French was instructed to burh the railroad bridges which span the two branches of that stream near its mouth. They accomplished this purpose in the afternoon. A detachment of the Pennsylvania militia, (the Twentieth Emergency regiment), then guarding the bridges, skedaddled across the Susquehanna just as French’s troops arrived. The cavalry late in the afternoon reported to me at York.”

Cannon  Turned on York

“Soon after leaving Weiglestown, I dispatched [Brig. Gen. Harry T.] Hays’ and [William “Extra Billy” Smith’s brigades across the country north of York to the Harrisburg turnpike [North George Street]. They pitched their tents around the Codorus mulls, (Loucks’), about two miles northeast of York. They planted their cannon east of the mill along the hill sides, overlooking the town, and threw up some earth works.

“I moved in York at the head of [Col. Isaac E.[ Avery’s brigade of North Carolina troops, and with them took possession of the public common [now Penn Park], where the hospital buildings were stationed, and the fairgrounds, southeast of the town [at King and Queen streets]. A few cannon were planted on an eminence (Shunk’s hill) southeast of York. My object in placing the troops in these positions was for the purpose of being ready for a sudden attack on the enemy.”

Prowell went on to give some background information, mentioning Early’s 2:00 p.m. entrance into York created a great deal of excitement among the residents. He noted that “Early was a soldier by nature, somewhat rash in his methods, and at that time as well as in later years, was a picturesque personality. He was tall of stature, but not erect in form. He wore a suit of gray, faded and somewhat discolored from a continuous march of two weeks. His long shaggy beard was untrimmed and his broad-brimmed felt hat showed evidences of long use. He rode a black horse, which is supposed to have been captured after he crossed the Pennsylvania line. On the left side of the animal was branded ‘C. S. A.,’ meaning Confederate States army.”

Early and his staff entered the Center Square and asked for the chief burgess, David Small. He requisitioned York for food and provisions for his soldiers. Early and his adjutant, the 21-year-old John Daniel, then entered the nearby courthouse on E. Market Street and commandeered the sheriff’s office as his headquarters. That room was the next-to-last room on the west side of the building. Daniel sat on a tall chair behind the sheriff’s desk and wrote out the formal requisition that other staff officers [W. W. Thornton and Charles E. Snodgrass] delivered to the city fathers. Early’s provost marshal, in charge of the security of the town, occupied the register’s office on the east side of the courthouse near the street.

Without notifying the town’s committee of safety or Chief Burgess Small, Early ordered a soldier to ring the courthouse bell. A crowd soon gathered inside the courtroom gallery. After a while, the leading citizens arrived and occupied seats withing the railing near the judge’s bench and the two rows of chairs used as a jury box.  Judge Robert Fisher was one of the last Yorkers to arrive for this unusual conference in his courtroom. He walked up the aisle and took a seat within the bar. According to Prowell, “The room was now filled to its utmost seating capacity and many persons stood in the aisles of the room. Without any signal the tall form of General Early, accompanied by his provost marshal [Col. Clement A. Evans], entered the front door and passed down the aisle. He proceeded to the rear of the court room with his sword and field glass dangling at his left side. Assuming an air of dignity, he ascended the three or four steps and took a seat for a few minutes behind the judge’s desk.”

Early claimed that under the rules of war, he had supreme authority within York. There was no need to declare martial law, he stated, because he had not encountered any resistance when his troops entered the town. He notified the citizens that he had placed a cordon of defense entirely around their town. He announced his requisition of $100,000 in cash and a large supply of clothing and provisions. Door-to-door collections only yielded a little more than $28,000.

As Prowell and Early rose to conclude their interview, Early informed him, “if you will collect the $100,000 which the city of York never paid me, you shall have a large commission.”

York, of course, never gave Early the rest of “his” money.

Two years later, Jubal Early had just left the Lynchburg post office when he slipped on the icy pavement and fell. He received internal injuries from which he never recovered. He died on March 2, 1894, an unrepentant Rebel who had never voted since 1865 and never took the oath of allegiance to the U. S. He likely still believed that York owed him $72,000, plus interest, as he several times told reporters and interviewers.